The national opioid overdose epidemic is costing the U.S. economy $1 trillion annually, according to a recent report from the U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking. The report went on to state it also “has the effect of a slow-motion weapon of mass destruction,” as the losses account for lost productivity due to early death, health care, and criminal justice costs.
The human toll of the drug crisis is well-documented and concerning. Provisional data from CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics indicate there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during 12-month period ending in April 2021, an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before.
“I’d run around, and I’d look for places that maybe I could break into. Crazy stuff like that; things that I’d never do if I wasn’t strung out,” said James, a 42-year-old who has battled opioid addictions for the last 20 years.
James did not want to use his last name but says he has seen close friends die from dependency.
“Anyone that has used before is like a ticking time bomb,” he said. “They could be a pillar of the community, but as soon as they start getting high, they turn into a wild animal.”
Ten years ago, James was introduced to methadone, a drug that combats the symptoms of withdrawal so users do not feel the compulsion to “get well.” According to James, it has allowed him to focus on other pursuits as he now has stable housing and a stable job.
Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests treatment centers like the one James goes to reduce the costs drugs have to society exponentially as every dollar spent on treatment can lead to $12 in savings on health care and the criminal justice system.
“It happens very fast, and we know that people aren’t prepared for the consequences,” said Denise Vincioni, the regional director for Denver Recovery Group, a methadone clinic with several locations in the greater Denver area. “Some of the smaller crimes that [users] don’t think affect anybody; it hikes the cost of products in the stores as people need to cover the burden of that. Taxes go to a lot of the Medicaid and Medicare and to a lot of the programs.”
In recent years, more money has been allocated toward treatment centers in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that the per-patient cost of methadone for providers is $4,700 yearly, while the cost of incarcerating someone for drug offenses costs upwards of $20,000 per year.